United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
"Rosie the Riveter" Turned Soldier Salutes Women Veterans at Cincinnati

The Cincinnati VA Medical Center celebrated Veterans Day this year with a special event saluting women Veterans from conflicts past and present.

The Cincinnati facility, where 99 staff members are women Veterans, hosted the special activities as a special tribute to those women who have served their county in times of war and peace.

At a dinner hosted by the medical center, the staff heard an inspiring address by Dr. Lynn Ashley, a World War II woman Veteran and educator, facilitator, and consultant, who praised the work of women Veterans and reflected on the vital work they do today in all areas of government service.

Dr. Ashley's career provides a unique perspective on the roles women Veterans have held throughout American history.

Hers is a colorful story, which begins 65 years ago:

Gas Mask Day

It was a Wednesday, gas mask day, at Carlsbad Army Air Corps Base in Carlsbad, N.M. The base teemed with new recruits and among them was Marilyn Haynes. Years later she would become Lynn Ashley, Ph.D, but in 1944, she was simply a 23-year-old clerk typist in the Women's Army Corps (WAC).

Lynne Ashley in 1944
Lynne Ashley in 1944

"Back then, we had gas mask day because the mindset was that we could be overrun by Japanese or Germans at any time," said Ashley. "We had to wear gas masks all day, no matter what we did."

That particular Wednesday was Ashley's lucky day. Because pilots and bombardiers stationed at the base were paid per flight, they were eager to take to the skies as often as possible, but they had to have observers in the plane to verify their flight. A captain asked Ashley if she would be his observer. She had never been on a plane before, and even better, she wouldn't have to wear a gas mask, so she immediately agreed.

Ashley was watching the cacti and the rocks whizzing past far below when the pilot noticed something was wrong with the bomb bay doors.

"He told me to take the controls while he checked the doors," said Ashley. "And he said, 'All you have to do is keep the wings level with the horizon.' I was looking at the mountains in front of me and thinking, 'How on earth am I going to do this?'"

What could she do but follow orders? Ten minutes later, the pilot returned to his seat, eyed the controls, and told a shaken Ashley she had only climbed 1,000 feet, so she "didn't do too badly."

From Rivets to Mission Logistics

Ashley, who had been working as a riveter at a Chicago defense plant the year before, enlisted in the WAC to support her brother's military service. Another reason for her enlistment had to do with the union moving into the plant and her being a bit, well, opinionated. "I was a little outspoken about it," she admitted. "And it looked like if I didn't leave, they'd ask me to. So I left and joined the Army. I thought it would get me overseas."

It got her as far as Georgia for six weeks of basic training, which included 238 hours of clerical training, learning about the organization of the Army along with touch typing, company records and reports, military discipline, personnel administration and finance.

After basic training, Ashley was assigned to the New Mexico airbase, where she was promoted to a corporal.

She worked "on the line" at the tarmac where aircraft pulled up for inspection and repair. It took Ashley 30 minutes to walk from her barracks to the office, bracing herself against the sandstorms that sometimes swept the airbase. Ashley's job was to figure out the mechanical logistics of missions, developing training schedules, determining which aircraft were available for exercises, and tracking the number of planes needed for each mission.

"You Just Did Your Job"

Looking back 65 years later, Ashley said she didn't experience any difficulties as a woman in the military. "It was just like working any place else. You just did your job and went home each evening," she said. "I was never aware of a lot of things that women in the military are going through now, being challenged physically, morally, and sexually."

Ashley is very involved in supporting today's military women. She's a member of an all-women's American Legion Post, assists deployed soldiers and their families in a military support group, and is on the Governor's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

"When I returned from war, I wasn't treated any differently as a Veteran, but you have to realize that there were hundreds and hundreds of us back then," said Ashley. "Now, some people don't realize there's a war going on and it's sad. It's my mission to do everything I can to try and educate people that we need to support the people who are over there."

By Stephanie Strauss, VA Staff Writer